September 9, 2009
The LA Times art critic Christopher Knight's article titled Fighting over Frida Kahlo is the best summary I've read yet on the controversy raging around the book Finding Frida Kahlo which documents a purported cache of Kahlo ephemera. As always Kahlo is a polarizing figure and if anything the article understates the ferocity of the politics around find. The debate is curious to me as cache is broad enough that serious scholarship should be able to provide definitive answers. Many of the items documented are simply knickknacks—the type of thing an obsessive collector has a hard time throwing away, only valuable because they belonged to an icon, but the letters and drawings should be placeable within the known canon if they are legit. Full disclosure, while we haven't seen them in many years, Carlos Noyola and his wife, Leticia, the art dealers who found the cache, are family friends. The Noyolas are art obsessed, a couple who live a life almost absurdly chock full of art, and who have intimate knowledge of each of the thousands of pieces in their homes
I tend to be wary of found caches of art and found diaries, especially when they are purported to be from famous figures (most especially when the found work contains salacious material that confirms things we already believe about those figures). Double scrutiny is reserved when the origins of the artwork are shady, but then again then again the Mexican art world is small, clubby, and strange and it's easy for wonderful things to sit in boxes or hang on walls for years without a paper trail. Frida's life was not ordinary and it's certainly plausible that she would hide boxes of drawings and papers away. The Noyola's involvement has only heightened my interest as they would be the first people to be be skeptical of something that seems too good to be true. I concur with Knight, only serious scholarship will tell the tale and I look forward to seeing how this one plays out...
Sidenote: For years I've heard that there is a Diego Rivera mural under several layers flat colored paint on the wall of a dining room 79th and Park Avenue. No idea if the story is true, but it would be fun to investigate someday.
Update: NY Times Article